Kayaking: Race to London on for NZ team

By Peter Thornton

Scott Bicknell sees the regatta as an opportunity to learn and improve. Photo / Duncan Brown
Scott Bicknell sees the regatta as an opportunity to learn and improve. Photo / Duncan Brown

It's countdown time to the Olympics for New Zealand's kayaking elite and this weekend is the perfect opportunity for their young squad to gain some confidence on home water.

Fresh after an inspiring showing at the Australian Grand Prix 2 regatta, the New Zealand team is excited that in 2011 their national championship doubles as the Oceania Canoe Sprint Championship in Rotorua.

The finals, completed tomorrow afternoon on Tikitapu (Blue Lake), will provide a good benchmark of the talent in the young Kiwi team.

The likes of Steven Ferguson and Darryl Fitzgerald are expected to qualify for the London Games but this competition holds significant sway for development of up-and-comers within the national squad.

"This regatta is important for me to keep improving and to keep competing at the top level," said 23-year-old Scott Bicknell. "With every regatta I try to learn as much as possible from the leading paddlers and this will be no different."

Bicknell, who won a bronze medal in the K-4 500m at the Youth Olympics back in Sydney in 2007, has been educated by his senior peers within the NZ team.

"All the intricacies, things like balance and timing, it's really important to get those things right because they all add at the end of the race to be the difference.

"If you can perfect those parts of your race in practice, then under pressure it's less of an issue because you're experienced."

The U23 men, who upset the Australians by taking out the top five spots in the U23 K1 1000m, will be battling it out at the Blue Lake.

Steven Ferguson is helping out his younger teammates where he can.

"I'm enjoying working with these young guys and the more I can pass on to them the experiences I have and the things I've learned from the past few years, then the better prepared they'll be to progress."

The New Zealand Women's team is spearheaded by Lisa Carrington and Teneale Hatton but, similarly, it proves an important pathway for the junior ranks.

The junior women are showing huge promise, in particular young Wellington paddler Kayla Imrie who returned with a gold and two silvers from Australia.

Aimee Fisher and Karina Radley were stand-outs in the women's U18 division and look to continue that good form.

It's an exciting time for the sport in New Zealand.

"The future looks bright," said Karen Simpson, the business manager of Canoe Racing New Zealand.

"[In Australia] that there were outstanding performances from paddlers across the full range of age groups is very encouraging.

"The strength coming up from the ranks of our junior paddlers took the Aussies by surprise."

Canoeing New Zealand is pleased to have paddlers from Samoa, Tahiti, the Cook Islands and Australia.

"It's a great opportunity to give NZ paddlers the chance to race against overseas competitors on their home turf," said Simpson.

The national regatta attracts New Zealand's top paddlers across all age groups, and many are returning.

Kayaking (canoe racing) is a developing sport in the Oceania region, Australia and New Zealand dominating the racing.

In the interests of building the sport, the developing nations are being hosted by the Oceania Canoe Association and assisted by Canoe Racing NZ coaches.

"The Oceania Champs give Pacific Island paddlers a chance to compete with experienced New Zealand and Australian athletes," said Simpson.

- NZ Herald

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